Ministers, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,
No matter what part of the world you have come from, I am sure we can all agree that that technology is changing the way people live, work and do business. Digitalisation and automation are framing our future. This creates new and exciting opportunities. But it also brings challenges – leaving some unable to keep up - and therefore, creating or compounding inequalities. Added to this, like many other parts of the world, the European Union faces a demographic time-bomb. In one generation from now, the dependency ratio will grow from 29 to 50%. And in recent years we have seen the largest migration of people since the second world war. These major shifts in our society will have a fundamental impact on how we work and live in the coming years. What future do we want for ourselves, our children and for Europe?
On a global scale, the competitiveness and capacity to drive innovation of countries will to a great extent be determined by the skills of our people. Many of today’s jobs did not exist a decade ago. Some studies have even suggested that half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055. The bulk of new quality jobs being created require higher skills levels. Children entering school today will end up working in job types that do not yet exist and adults already in the labour market will change not just jobs – but also careers – many more times in their life. We need to ensure our workforce is resilient and ready to reap the benefits of change. But it is also more than this - in the European Union, as in our partner countries, we must invest in people. Because investing in people and their skills also creates more stable and inclusive societies. Investing in people can also stem the flow of brain drain. In our consultations with stakeholders when defining Europe's Pillar of Social Rights, and in our reflection on the future of Europe. One thing is abundantly clear, we need the skills of our people to keep pace. In a fast-changing world, the question of which skills are relevant, and how to anticipate these skills needs is of utmost importance.
Ladies and gentlemen, we don't have all the answers. But I firmly believe that the New Skills Agenda for Europe, launched last June, sets us on the right course for the future. Its ten actions will:
- help people thrive in fast-evolving workplaces;
- help companies access the talent they need to invest and innovate;
- ensure that everyone has a solid foundation of basic skills;
- look ahead to the skills needs of tomorrow;
- and ensure that skills and qualifications are more transparent and therefore better recognised across borders.
Already 8 of the Agenda's 10 Key Actions have been launched. Later this month to coincide with World Refugee Day, I'll set out a "Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals". This multilingual tool will help front-line staff working with migrants identify and document their skills in order to help them integrate. I'd like to highlight just a few of the other Skills Agenda actions which are particularly relevant to our shared work on Vocational Skills.
Certain key sectors such as green technology and renewables, or additive manufacturing have the potential to drive innovation. But without the people with right skills they won't reach their potential. Other, more traditional sectors, such as automotive, are being radically transformed. The future workforce of these sectors needs completely different skills sets. This is why we've launched a "Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills". This initiative will focus attention and investment on key economic sectors. Industry-led partnerships will map skills needs and trends in their sector which are holding back growth. They'll work on new curricula to address gaps and ways to boost development of the skills needed. For too long we talk about how important it is to work in partnership but struggle to move out of our echo chambers. Government cannot do this alone, but neither can business or civil society. And it won't work if we have the education ministry pulling in a different direction to the employment or industry ministries. The Blueprint puts together actors who might otherwise not find themselves in the same room – to work on practical and forward-looking shared solutions.
In our Skills Agenda, we've given high prominence to making vocational education and training a first choice not a second option. The Torino process and the EU Copenhagen process are about just that: valuing, promoting and improving vocational studies across Europe and with our partner countries.
The European Training Foundation's expertise is helping to strengthen the capacity of policy makers, VET providers and employers in partner countries. The ETF and the Torino process open the door to practical co-operation on shared initiatives such as the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. I'm happy that this engagement has led to partner countries joining the Alliance and working with EU Member States to improve the quality, supply and attractiveness of VET.
Another example of concrete work where EU member states and partner countries are engaging on equal terms is the Vocational Skills Week. Last year's event was a huge success. So much that we will organise a second VET Week 20-24 November 2017. I urge you to get involved again and mobilise your stakeholders so we can make this year's Week even better than last year. I am also happy to announce that as part of the Week, ETF will again organise the 'ETF Torino Process Award for the Entrepreneurship Key Competence' – open to good practices from all ETF partner countries. Ladies and gentlemen, Europe and our partner countries share enormous societal challenges: the refugee crisis, climate change, technological transformation and unemployment - especially among our young people. As a global actor, the European Union is working hard to find solutions to these challenges; to create economic resilience, build civil society, and foster the ability of all individuals to take control of their lives. This is what investment in human capital can deliver: And effective vocational education and training and skills development policies are a crucial part of it. I hope that your discussions yesterday and today are providing insight and inspiration... and that you, like me, leave with a strengthened passion for putting vocational education and training at the top of your agenda. Thank you.